In a one of its kind, NASA launched a mission on Wednesday to deliberately smash a spacecraft into an asteroid at 15,000 miles per hour. The whole idea behind this is to test whether slamming a spacecraft into an asteroid can nudge it into a different trajectory. The mission is called the Double Asteroid Redirection Test or DART.
If the mission proves successful it will give NASA and other space agencies in the world the nod to go ahead and stop if a giant space rock heads towards us to wipe out life on Earth one day. In such a situation the space agencies can deflect an asteroid heading towards Earth and avert a catastrophic impact in the future.
There are 10,000 known near-Earth asteroids 460 feet in size or greater, but none has a significant chance to hit in the next 100 years.
How will the DART mission work?
The DART spacecraft lifted off atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday at 1:21 am Eastern time.
The mission took off from the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California at 10:21 pm Pacific Time Tuesday.
The rocket reached space before sending its reusable booster back toward the ocean to land on SpaceX’s drone ship.
It will take about an hour to deploy the spacecraft in orbit, and hours after that it will unfurl solar panels to power the vehicle on its journey.
The impact will happen in late September or early October next year when the binary asteroids are at their closest point to Earth, roughly 6.8 million miles away.
Four hours before impact, the DART spacecraft will autonomously steer itself straight toward Dimorphos for a head-on collision at 15,000 miles per hour.
An onboard camera will capture and send back photos to Earth in real-time until 20 seconds before the DART’s impact.
The satellite will snap images every six seconds in the moments before and after DART’s impact.